Launch Questions

Our launch brought together powerful voices and frank perspectives from scholars, practitioners, advocates and policy makers in the continent and its diaspora in an important and necessary conversation:  about the need- and frames of reference for a shift in the global research ecosystem that sees African terms, interests and constituencies take their rightful place in knowledge production, and – as an element of such a systemic shift – about a necessary change in the way that global North-Africa research relationships unfold.

One key task for PARC is to help ensure that the conversation not only continues, but that it evolves to crystallise concrete directions for, and to galvanise action that can yield such change. To this end we are planning forums to further pursue key lines of argument, ideas and areas of debate that emerged in the launch.

A first step is to distill the major takeaways from the launch and to offer initial responses to the incisive and challenging questions and comments many of you posted during the event and that we did not have time to address.  We do so below, with humility, knowing that for many we do not (yet) have sufficiently clear or compelling answers – but trusting that answers-and further questions will evolve as we engage further with you.


  • Q: How committed are African governments and the private sector to Africa’s own research? Conscious budgetary provisions have to be made and the funds made available at country at levels and AU level. Georgina Yeboah 
  • Q: As Africa thinks of resources from the north there is need for Africa to show commitment in allocating local resources to support research for Africa’s growth and prosperity. Cecilia Mbaka 

A: To be sure: the need for African public and private sector investment in research is recognised explicitly in relevant policy frames at continental, sub-regional and national levels.  Less clear is the extent of actual commitment to such investment. There are signs that governments’ readiness to spend on research is growing.  Latest available data from the UNESCO Science report [Latest available data at present is from 2015. A new UNESCO Science Report with up-to-date data will be released on 11 June], for instance, shows several African countries increasing the share of GDP going to research and development (R&D) and putting in place measures to stimulate private sector engagement in R&D. 

There are also signs of more concerted, collective efforts to support research.  One example is the commitment of funding by five governments to support the training of young scientists, through the Partnership for skills in Applied Science, Engineering and Technology Regional Scholarship Investment Fund. A more recent example, which Alex Ezeh highlighted in the launch discussions, are plans by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to establish a multi-billion USD Africa Knowledge and Capacity Fund, drawing mainly from African governments and private sector and philanthropy) resources, to support research and research ecosystems across the continent. The question is not only whether such – and other, similar plans – will come to fruition, but also whether more is possible.  

We expect the forthcoming UNECSO science report 2021 to provide useful data on how, and how widely, across African countries, research support has evolved in recent years; and useful pointers to possible future areas of engagement for us. 

 

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  • Q: To create a new mechanism for engaging and collaborating, we have to abandon all the current assumptions and common practices including the foundation of “givers” (Global North countries) and “recipients” (Global South countries) and build a new environment for local academics and researchers as well as research departments and institutions to co-create, co-produce and lead as experts in their fields. This requires both Researchers in the GS and (most importantly) the Governments in the GS to take seriously the knowledge production. How we can we bring our decision-makers on to the table? Dr. Jama Musse Jama
  • Q: Unless African leaders give priority to knowledge generation it will be impossible to have equitable research partnerships in the continent.  How can we make this happen? Cheikh Mbacké [APHRC]
  • Q: How do we ensure that Northern funders align funds to the needs of African Institutions and countries? Anonymous 

A: Our sense is that decision makers – at least from some countries and sectors and in some spaces – are already coming to the table to debate and consider the issues.  The discussions around the AfDB initiative (mentioned above) are one instance, as are continental deliberations around the Science, technology and innovation strategy for Africa and forums, convened by regional economic communities, to consider sub-regional strategies on science and research.  And, as also noted above, a number of concrete initiatives and funding commitments now exist.  

How seriously all governments take the importance of investing in research – and what rationales underpin their stance – remains a question; and perhaps we ought to consider it as an important empirical question.  Answers to it could help with identifying where and how decision makers need to be engaged on the value of investing in homegrown knowledge production. Does a focused and concerted African civil society policy advocacy effort on knowledge production exist?  If yes, where – and how do we connect to it? If no – should one be formed?  

 

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  • Q: Comment on what Alex has said in transformative change, totally agree that incremental changes only patch up certain areas without really addressing the beliefs and assumptions. Triple loop learning is shifting the context and stepping into a parallel universe. So changes need to be radical, fundamentally shaping the underlying patterns of our thinking and behaviour, observing ourselves as Defensive Routines. Peninah A-Kindberg 

A: Can incremental change lead to transformation in global North – Africa research relationships? What are the importance and potential role of change in mindsets and framing? These questions go to the heart of PARC’s endeavour and we reflect on them here.

 

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  • Q: I think the research institutions in Africa should have a forum on how to work together being guided by the wonderful conversation here. PARC can lead this. Georgina Yeboah  

A: Your comment speaks to a central theme that emerged across many of the panelists’ interventions in the launch – though not articulated in quite the same way – is the critical importance of centring Africa’s institutions and constituencies in the conversation about ‘equitable partnerships’. We reflect on this, and its implications for PARC’s work here.   

 

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  • Q: How can events such as this embrace its own aspirations and become more conversationalist?  Anonymous

A: Yes. While the launch discussions were extremely rich, there was little opportunity – given the virtual format and restrictions on time – for a true conversation, a true back and forth and engagement among the speakers and audience.  Yet, the launch provided important starting points and foci for future conversations — and we are working to play a part in nurturing them. As noted above, we are distilling- and planning further, interactive, forums to discuss the key issues, questions, lines of argument and areas of contention that emerged in the launch.   

 

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  • Q: May I know how PARC plans to: (1) address the negative attitudes that global North Institutions, academicians and researchers have towards African Researchers, books written by Africans, and (2) make books written by Africans to become major books for all students in all institutions of Higher Learning in global North?

I think that finding answers to these questions can help a lot in the agenda of decolonialization that we are discussing.  I appreciate the initiative.  Dr Isaac Kabelenga, Executive Director for the Zambian Center for Poverty Reduction and Research Limited, and Lecturer at the University of Zambia, Department of Social Development Studies. 

  1. A: In thinking about change in global North – Africa research relations, we consider it essential to make explicit and reflect on the attitudes of those involved on both sides – and to pinpoint where shifts and a new consciousness are required.  Our efforts in this regard must start at home and we are beginning with developing plans to stimulate, and make available spaces of trust for, open, guided reflection and discussion on attitudes, values and interests among UoB researchers.  With time the spaces could, and perhaps should, be opened to allow for true dialogue with African partners.
  1. The ‘decolonise UoB’ effort is thinking carefully about ways to dismantle the dominance of Western thought systems and scholarship in curricula and changes in key reading lists.  We at PARC have not yet explored how in practical terms we could contribute to this work.  One potential way, would be to make connections with African scholars able to suggest key African works for inclusion in teaching across disciplines.  Space to make such suggestions could be made available on our website. 

 

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  • Q: Zubairu Wai has made reference to the Pan-Afrikan ideology as something that shape the approach to addressing the inequalities. To what extent has PARC considered this? Peninah A-Kindberg

 A: PARC takes as a key point of reference the aspirations for Africa as outlined in the African Union Agenda 2063: because we respect and take seriously Africa’s own blueprint for progress, but also because the Agenda speaks to, demands, the very transformation, the very repurposing of global North-Africa (research) relationships we are seeking to champion. Agenda 2063 is underpinned by the ideal of Pan Africanism and points to ways of working that will be important for PARC – including engaging with relevant diasporic communities, a fostering of research that seeks to be relevant to regional integration and policy making efforts, and engagement with continental or sub-regional science- or higher-education focused initiatives to which we may be able to add value. This does not mean that we negate critical engagement, in particular from the continent, with the idea of Pan-Africanism or the attempts to translate it into practice.  

 

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  • Q: A lot of the funding for Africa’s research mostly comes from Northern institutions and funders, how do we ensure such funding is aligned to the vision and needs of the continent? Francis Naab

A: If we take as given that Northern funding will, at least for the foreseeable future, play a significant role in financing research in Africa (notwithstanding questions about the extent and nature of this role raised, among others by recent cuts to UKRI support for inquiry in LMIC, then the need to ensure the alignment of such funding with the vision and needs of the continent is critical. 

The question of how best to do this (and what role PARC might play in this regard) is one that needs more deliberation.  Open, firm and concerted calls or demands from African research constituencies themselves, are vital.  Some comprehensive yet careful thinking on concrete funding models specifically to strengthen African research institutions has been done – and provides another starting point. Another might be to promote global North contributions to the envisaged AfDB-driven Africa Knowledge and Capacity Fund mentioned above. Another, perhaps, is to undertake some mapping: of the evolving set of initiatives, such as Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), already in place or being developed to shift the ‘centre of gravity’ of international funding for African research to the continent an of the broader landscape of global North funding for Africa-focused research across disciplines and funder types. 

A firm understanding of the extent to- and ways in which alignment with African priorities is sought, and key underlying rationales could help identify spaces and modes for ‘us’ to engage as well as, perhaps, unexpected champions and sound practice models to consider.   

 

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  • Q: In relation to the Diaspora, Bristol has just passed a Reparations and Atonement motion with support of the African Heritage Communities at grassroots level. How does reparations play into the research aspect of PARC’s strategy? Peninah A-Kindberg 

A: This query goes to the heart of a more fundamental question that we must make space to address and that emerged strongly – even if not in the precise words – in the launch discussions.  It is this: 

“Wherein lies the value for Africa in global North-Africa research cooperation” Put differently, how must global North – Africa research relationships be configured to advance the achievement of Africa’s aspirations (in the shorter and longer term)?   

Or, rendered yet another way:  can change in global North-Africa research cooperation help advance a broader shift in the global research ecosystem in favour of Africa?  If yes, how must such research cooperation change and be configured?   

Other questions that speak directly to the issue of reparations arise from this:  

Is true mutuality of benefits (as generally defined) the aim? Ought benefits, as a matter of course – be stacked in favour of Africa? If so, would the principles of atonement of reparation be central rationales for this – and what would this look like in practice? 

PARC’s further discussion forums will support critical debate and reflection on these queries – with the aim of exploring answers and in the hope of forging consensus and clear directions for action.   

 

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  • Q: It seems/sounds like you all have been discussing African progress with western approaches, language, and expect success. The people deserve more and better. Anonymous  

A: This is a challenging comment.  At the risk of misunderstanding, we take it to mean that what ‘progress’ means for /to Africa (including specifically in terms of research) cannot, should not be defined by ‘anyone’ but African constituencies in African terms.  We feel that our basic endeavour does take the cue from perspectives voiced and needs expressed by African institutions and scholars, including some of us (now) in the diaspora.  However, your point speaks to serious questions — also raised in the launch discussions — about who is taken to represent ‘Africa’s’ interests. We reflect on this issue, and its implications for PARC’s work here.

 

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  • Q: Divine is on point. Please be humble, “abandon” previous approaches, and improve in the direction he suggested! Anonymous   

A: Divine challenged us that the core of transforming partnerships needs to begin with a deliberate shift in orientation in Africa itself: away, broadly, from “extraversion”  – defined by Hountondji as an orientation to the concepts, knowledge production processes in the global North as a source of authority – towards a deliberate introversion.  A re-valuing of Africa’s own culture, determination of its own concepts, frames and priorities – including, crucially, what it wants from, values in, and has to offer in research cooperation with the global North.  This must be explored in Africa-internal processes and debates – as a basis for engaging with global North constituencies on necessary change in research relationships.  Can or should  PARC play any role in fostering or supporting such introversion? We are keen to hear and consider views on this, in particular from the continent and diasporic communities  

 

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  • Q: How can African languages and linguistic translation be best embedded in research practice? Is there scope for PARC to teach African languages in Bristol (currently only at SOAS/Manchester Met in the UK, and online)? Ruth Bush, UoB 
  • Q: I note that the University of Bristol does not have a department of African languages or African studies. Is this something the Centre is hoping to address? Anonymous 

 A: We recognize that language is fundamental in determining what knowledge is generated and how it is understood and used, and that the use of African languages must be embedded in research in and for Africa. What PARC could and should do to ensure this, including whether or not it could support the teaching of African languages, are critically important questions, which we have not thus far addressed. We will explore them with relevant departments and the University’s Centre for Black Humanities (the only one in the UK) and partners in the continent and share our evolving thinking in further discussions.  

 

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  • Q: What is the specific goal here? EITHER use capacity building to develop the hugely skill-based training, often predicated on a strong education system from kindergarten upwards, such that Africa can participate in this northern scientific culture. OR develop a new scientific culture whereby you are not judged on the basis of conforming to standard science. I know these aren’t necessarily alternatives, but organizations like PARC need to decide where to put their efforts, right? Anonymous  

A: Your query speaks to the critical question of whether, or to what extent, Africa wants or needs to nurture a separate, new scientific culture or intellectual tradition that includes unique methodologies and does not seek to assimilate European traditions and standards.   

 This is first and foremost an Africa-internal debate to be had with answers to be determined in the continent.  However, as the central problem is relational, answers might depend at least in part on what change – what ceding of epistemic authority – is possible on the part of global Northern scientific constituencies.   This could be explored for instance in honest and open conversations and exchange – which PARC should help nurture – including as part of research capacity strengthening (RCS) activities for the next generation of scholars. In our engagement, taking the cue from Africa-led research capacity strengthening initiatives, we specifically envisage contributing to: 

  1. The fostering of connections and provision of perspectives that support awareness raising, open debate and reflection among students and young scholars about the need for a shift in the research system in Africa’s favour, and required directions for change in, and new modes of global North-Africa research cooperation. 
  1. The embedding of new cooperation modes in the training / capacity development provided. 

  

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  • Q: Should not most of this type of talk focus on different emerging tech and how it can improve Africa? Terrence J.  

A: We are plan to explore and build on the potential importance of emerging technologies – in particular innovation developed in the continent – in relation to the capstone research programmes we hope to help catalyse and foster. 

 

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  • Q: As a writer, researcher now based in the UK and formerly working in a literary space in Kenya, I find a huge disconnect between formal research institutions in the North and their ways of working and the primary spaces of knowledge production on the African continent which are now based on youthful populations which are not that visible in formal institutions there (and might not be interested in anymore). How can PARC negotiate these differences in knowledge production approaches in the North and work with these youthful, mostly informal spaces in the South? Billy Kahora (UoB) 
  • Q: What is the role of creating greater level of equity of knowledge production within Africa in enabling more equitable partnerships with those outside of Africa. Anonymous

A: This important point on the need for democratizing research, extends to the question about how we ensure partnership and co-production of research and knowledge not only among academic institutions but also with other non-academic actors and constituencies, including those outside, or disadvantaged in, existing hierarchies. 

While we recognize the critical importance of fostering such co-production, including in the capstone research programmes we hope to nurture, we still have work to do in thinking through what practical approaches will be needed within the context of actual research projects. We will seek input and learning on this from African partners and thinking, other available resources and tools, and from ongoing UoB work, such as for example on Literary activism in 21st century Africa, the Somali First initiative, that explicitly pursues active research participation of local actors, groupings and movements.  

 

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  • Q: Institutions on the continent such as the African Union, AfDB, need to lead the charge for decolonization. For instance, how can an AU committee of experts have most members from the global north, either as individuals or representing institutions, in an area which has lots of African and Africa-based experts? Justice Nonvignon

A: Yes, the situation you describe seems, intuitively, to run counter to the aspirations captured in Agenda 2063. Reasons for it might speak to the extroversion that Divine highlighted – but may also reflect other rationales or factors.  This could be an instructive empirical question to investigate: a mapping of the actual nature, composition of key AU or AfDB and other expert committees across sectors and an exploration of the rationales and factors shaping these. 

 

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  • Q: How do we strengthen research capacities in Africa universities? Hilda Owii 

A: Africa-led initiatives, such as CARTA, such as PASET-RSIF to name but two examples, are expanding.  To our mind it is such initiatives that are key to defining what approaches are needed and appropriate to strengthen capacities in Africa’s universities, and what the role of institutions in the global North in supporting such endeavours should be.   As noted above, we feel that a key element of such support could precisely centre on the fostering of awareness and dialogue on, and the embedding of, required new modes of global North-Africa research cooperation. 

 

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  • Q: Hope consideration to promote research collaboration within and among African researchers and institutions, so it’s not purely a north-south kind of initiative. Hilda Owii 

A: Expanding inter-African research collaboration is a key goal for the continent, already pursued through various initiatives and networks and subject to scientific debate.  We envisage that such collaboration will explicitly underpin the development and realization of research projects across the capstone areas; as well as our work to develop inquiry and thought-leadership on transformation in global North-Africa research cooperation.  

 

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  • Q: The 5th PAN African Congress was held in Manchester in 1945. Is it possible that one could be held in Bristol? Kerubo Okioga 

A: An 8th Pan African congress was convened in 2015 in Ghana.  We await information on plans for a 9th such congress in the continent! [Not us….phew] 

 

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  • Q: Will PARC adopt a pan-African approach to research, also working with the African diaspora in building worldwide research? Anonymous 

A: Yes, PARC certainly intends to engage the African diaspora in its work and research.  The launch event was one example drawing key substantive speakers exclusively from the continent and its diaspora.  We feel the particular experiences of scholars in the diaspora offer important perspectives that we must build on.  

 

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  • Q: Why is Bristol well placed for this centre?  Anonymous 

A: There are, perhaps, two parts to the answer. 

The first concerns reasons why a UK University is well-placed to host a Centre on Africa research and cooperation. 

As noted earlier, we consider Global North-Africa research cooperation a key element of the larger global research ecosystem – and believe that change, or transformation, in such cooperation is required as an important part, or even an enabler of wider structural shifts in the system as a whole.  As parties in global North-Africa research cooperation, UK Universities generally, have an active part to play, indeed have a responsibility to play a part, (in conjunction with African constituencies), in advancing the necessary transformation; ensuring that needed change on their side happens.   

The second concerns reasons why the University of Bristol (UoB) is well-placed in the UK to host a Centre on Africa research and cooperation.  

We consider that transformation will, inevitably, mean a ceding of authority and resources on the part of global North institutions, and a reorientation to ways of doing or seeing things.  Both may be difficult, even uncomfortable.  Bristol – both the University and the city –  is, we feel, particularly well positioned to champion such transformation, given: UoB’s long-established culture of social and civic responsibility, alternative thinking and activism (including its readiness to face difficult questions about its own links to colonialism and the slave trade – and about implications for the future); and the city’s communities’ central role in anti-racism movements and, more recently, Black Lives Matter. PARC will be able to draw richly on both. 

 

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  • Q: Who will own the knowledge (and capitals that stem from the knowledge) produced? Anonymous 
  • Q: What kinds of mechanisms are in place to use the research outputs & outcomes of PARC into under/postgrad education & training both in African unis & at Bristol? Anonymous 

A: We envisage four main kinds of outputs and outcomes emerging from PARC’s research and engagement, which will be co-owned by all those involved in producing them, and will be made available through multiple spaces, including the PARC website: 

  • First, Africa-centred understandings of the nature, interactions and implications of the multiple layers of imbalances in the research system and in global North Africa research partnerships, how these need to be addressed and what holistic approaches are required at what levels to do so.   
  • Second, building on the first, a framework to capture, guide and foster accountability for institutional commitment and action, (through change in policies, structures, cultures) to transform global North-Africa research cooperation. We envision this framework as a Charter co-owned by global North and African partners. 
  • Third, empirical evidence and policy engagement generated through the capstone programmes; and evolving learning on best approaches to i) optimize the relevance and use of research findings for advancing policy action and ii) apply new modes of global-North Africa research cooperation in project practice.    
  • Fourth, and building on the above, continuously evolving expertise and resource materials on the rationales and directions for, and concrete paths to embed, transformation in global North-Africa partnerships. 

Identifying where and how these could be brought into undergraduate and postgraduate education and training within UoB will be important. We will explore this in conjunction with the University and in light of its ‘Decolonize UoB’ efforts. African partners could decide on the relevance of bringing elements of the generated knowledge into the education and training of their students, and on where and how PARC ought to play a role in supporting this.